Covid: From Byker Grove to pandemic A&E – the actor who trained as a nurse

Vicky Hall and Ken Loach

image copyrightVicky Hall

From patients “piling in” to A&E during the Covid pandemic, to performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Vicky Hall thinks she is juggling life well as both an actor and a fully-trained nurse.

As a teenager Vicky Hall worked in a fish and chip shop to pay for acting lessons. She said she was a “show-off and just needed an outlet”.

Born in Benwell, in Newcastle upon Tyne, Vicky got her first acting break when she was aged 13 and wrote to the producers of the CBBC drama Byker Grove, begging for a chance.

She got her break alongside TV legends Ant and Dec at the start of their careers as well as Jill Halfpenny, who also went on to greater fame.

Vicky about to go into work

Her long acting CV is impressive, with roles in BBC dramas such as Casualty and Shakespeare and Hathaway, and Hat Trick Production’s medical drama Bodies.

But there have been career lows – dressed as a chef wearing a giant plastic head while giving nutritional advice to teens in a shopping centre, who responded by throwing sweets at her.

She also starred in the hugely popular Teachers on Channel 4, which kick-started the careers of the likes of Andrew Lincoln, who went on take the lead role in AMC’s zombie horror series The Walking Dead and starred in 2003 film Love Actually.

She has also had parts in Derek, with Ricky Gervais, The Bill and Shameless, as well as roles as a nurse in Line of Duty, Doctors and Coronation Street.

But she said facing rejections at auditions was tough and although she has rarely been out of work she believes the odds are “against you being working class and earning a living as an actor”.

She also believes there is not much demand for “chubby northerners” in Hollywood.

‘Nursing is humbling, acting isn’t’

The birth of her two children changed Vicky’s outlook on life, and she decided working all around the country for long periods of time was not for her any more. The world of acting could be uncertain, she said, adding she desperately wanted to have career progression and a clear trajectory.

“I thought about what I would do next and decided it had to have all the excitement of acting, the need to really use my brain, and that I would be in demand”, explained Vicky.

Having played many nurses over the years, she said: “Emergency nursing just fitted the bill.”

Mospa in The Winter's Tale

She spent three years training before getting a job in 2016 as an A&E nurse at Alexandra Hospital, in Redditch, Worcestershire.

She said: “Having a back up plan does not mean you are a failure.

“It’s not brilliant when you don’t get an audition, but now I have perspective, it all washes over me. Walking thousands of steps a day in a hospital and being constantly busy gives you perspective.”

At a time, during the coronavirus pandemic, when many have lost their jobs or have had time to contemplate whether they are even in the right job, while working from home, she counts herself lucky and has the best of both worlds – a regular “using your brain and stimulating job” as well as getting the chance to go to a whole other world.

She said: “Nursing is humbling, acting isn’t.

“Generally, there are guidelines and protocols for nursing and acting is creative but there is definitely room for improvisation as an A&E nurse, because you never know what is coming through the door and you have to do something.

“I dislike routine which is why I am suited to A&E.”

Vicky Hall

When the coronavirus pandemic began in 2020, Vicky said she was anxious along with her fellow NHS workers.

She recalled: “I felt more scared going into work in March last year because it felt like the calm before the storm.

“We had a few weeks when A&E was silent and we never have that. No-one was coming in because they were all terrified of catching something and we hadn’t quite had the virus long enough for the very sick patients to be coming in.

Vicky Hall

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“We were all really nervous and then patients started piling in, ambulance after ambulance, but what was very difficult was when someone collapses with a cardiac arrest, as a nurse your natural extinct is to check for a pulse, no pulse, shout for help and start chest compressions.

“But you can’t, you have to stop, get everything on, your mask and goggles and that is absolutely against all of your instincts and its very hard, you feel like you are letting people down.”

‘Coffees and curries’

She was also touched by the clapping for the NHS and appreciation from the public.

“Quite often on a shift you grab something from the vending machine to keep you going but then people were bringing in coffees and curries – it was so kind.”

In her two decades as an actress, she has never turned down an acting job, not even while carrying out her training.

As a result, she can be doing a challenging shift in A&E one day, then hours later she can “go play” and dance in her role as Mopsa in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Winter’s Tale, filmed exclusively for BBC 4.

Then in another moment, she can experience another change of pace while recording a voiceover for a video game.

While juggling childcare of her two sons, Bertie, now 14, and Rex, now 12, with her husband Andrew, a professor in history, she was able to commit to filming CBBC’s children’s drama So Awkward in the summer holidays.

“My sons are far more impressed with my NHS work than with anything I do on TV,” she explained.

Vicky Hall

image copyrightVicky Hall

“In Rex’s class at school they watched an episode of So Awkward I was in, when I played a character’s mum, and I asked him if he told them, ‘that’s my mum!’

“He said: ‘No why on earth would I do that?’

“I feel I get the same respect in both professions, but people are more interested in acting. Except actors, who are fascinated by the nursing and quite enjoy any gory stories. No names of course.”

At Christmas, she was floored by Covid for three weeks. She lost her sense of taste, had chest pain from the cough, and was smelling things that were not there, such as smoke – a condition known as phantosmia.

Back to full fitness, as if Vicky does not have enough on her plate, she is now doing a masters in emergency clinical practice.

She said: “I would be able to see and treat my own patients, much like a doctor, focusing on minor injuries like fractures, eye injuries, wounds.”

She wants to keep doing both drastically different jobs for as long as she can.

“They both keep me grounded, happy, creative and stimulated.”

Vicky Hall

image copyrightVicky Hall

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